If you’re fatigued walking elbow-to-elbow in the tourist destinations of India, you’re not alone. Be it the crammed hill-stations, tourist-dotted beaches or bustling cities, there are times when one needs to hit pause and search for something offbeat. There aremany of us, who’d rather eliminate tried and tested places and head to the relatively undiscovered ones. The ‘Wheels of Wander’ self-driving trails by Maruti Suzuki Alto and Outlook Traveller steered eastwards to Visakhapatnam and Araku Valley in February, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. The four-day trail promised extraordinary experiences, stunning landscapes and eclectic food, and I had the company of four friends from Mumbai to enjoy all of them thoroughly.
While the pristine golden sands of Visakhapatnam and the breezy path along it seemed tempting, what piqued my interest was the Araku Valley. Over 100km inland from the seaside city, Araku Valley takes the traveller to a completely different topography. Several sharp turns to the the highest point establish the hill top status. The terrain shifts from bleached sandy trails to greener ones. When you hit the coffee plantations enroute, the road gets flanked by dense green foliage and the air seems crisper and cooler. When driving at a comfortable pace, it takes about 3-4 hours of companionship of the verdant coffee-clad hills before you reach the Valley.
Araku Valley doesn’t emulate the slopes and sights of other hill-stations. At a relatively lower height, it showcases its vast sprawl of land, with mild dips and folds as far as you can see. What is most fascinating is the interaction with local tribes that live here. One of the most ancient territories of tribal occupancy, the region is still home to many indegenous ones. Their history is documented in exhibits in the Tribal Museum here. The museum showcases daily life of the tribals, by throwing light on the objects of daily use, weapons, utensils, musical instruments and clothing. Housed within a red bricked bungalow, the depictions are not only through a series of photographs but also sculptures. The museum also offers an experiential time so one can pick up a bow and arrow and give the bull’s eye a try.
But what really amplifies the experience is watching the tribals perform the traditional dhimsa dance. Accompanied by men on different percussions, the women perform with soft moves. There is also a singer, who often pays homage to a local deity in song, while the women continue to dance in a circular formation. We got a chance to see this up-close and even joined the dance troupe, trying to match their steps.
Another breathtaking sight at Araku Valley is the set of natural caves. The Borra Caves can be accessed via a forested path that opens up into a magnificent sight of the cave system. Steps with metal railings lead down to the base of the caves from where one can get a clear view of the stalagmites and stalactites hanging from the roof and the walls. Sections of the caves are lit up in bright colours for extra drama.
Going offbeat also offers the opportunity to try out the cuisine which you wouldn't find anywhere else in the country. Although Andhra Pradesh is known for its biryani, which is characterised by the use of black pepper, there was another dish that won my heart. The smoked bamboo chicken had a unique but exemplary taste, and it was best sampled from the shanties by the road. Speaking of flavours, the local organic coffee of Araku Valley has an incredible flavour as well. No wonder, it is exported to different parts of the world. For us, it was easily accessible in the smallest shops by the road. Looking back at the trip, it was the food that has left an indelibe mark in the memory.
Disconnecting from the din of the city, and hitting pause to experience Araku Valley in a paced out rhythm was the ideal way to engage all my senses. The wild, elemental feel to the destination made me feel like I had stumbled on a well-kept secret.
Courtesy of Outlook Traveller